Within the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the Thor franchise has always been the awkward middle child. Not as narratively driven as “Captain America,” but not as ridiculously fun as “Guardians of the Galaxy,” the God of Thunder has attempted to synthesize the realism of Earth with the fantasy of Asgard, with mixed results. Never truly committed to either of these aesthetics, the past two movies are unmemorable as far as multi-million dollar superhero movies go. Enter “Thor: Ragnarok,” a complete reinvention of the franchise.
The film follows the odyssey of Thor (Chris Hemsworth) as he attempts to forestall “Ragnarok,” the prophesied destruction of the heavenly civilization of Asgard. Abandoning the monotony of Earth and gloomy, grayscale aesthetics, “Thor: Ragnarok” is a neon interstellar thrill ride that doesn’t take itself too seriously. In addition to the fight between Thor and Hulk that was teased in trailers, “Thor: Ragnarok” offers a slew of colorful, well-choreographed battles of epic proportions, intercut with both visual gags and hilarious lines. A feast for the senses, the film effectively uses CGI to create mesmerizing environments and well-animated foes, complementing these visuals with a high-energy synth score. Not one, but two action scenes are fought with Led Zeppelin's “Immigrant Song” in the background. Two is honestly not enough.
The film wholeheartedly recognizes superhero tropes and lampoons them without restraint. In the very first scene, we expect the film to tread in the direction of “Thor: The Dark World” as a hulking, demon-like beast delivers a villainous monologue to Thor, who is dangling from a chain. However, this worry is quickly dispelled as Thor is awkwardly turned away from the monster by the chain’s rotational momentum. Unlike most attempts at comedic relief in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which are poorly paced and probably contractually stipulated, this scene, along with many others in the film, brings about natural and genuine laughs.
Hemsworth is as charming as ever, and with no forced romantic subplots, he is solely focused on obliterating his enemies with style and cracking witty one-liners. Unlike in the previous Thor movies, however, the secondary characters completely steal the show. Jeff Goldblum plays the Grandmaster, ruler of the garbage planet Sakaar, who imprisons Thor and pits him in a battle against the Hulk. Less of a character and more Jeff Goldblum just being himself, the Grandmaster is an eccentric minor villain who absolutely demands attention when on screen. But the funniest performance comes from the director Taika Waititi himself. Playing a warrior literally made of stone, Waititi uses a quiet New Zealand accent to make his character Korg unintentionally hysterical, delivering soft-spoken lines with a childlike sincerity.
Beyond the cameo, Waititi has given this particularly pedestrian superhero franchise a much-needed face lift. His former directing experience includes mainly New Zealand indie comedies, such as “Eagle vs. Shark” and (the absolutely hilarious) “What We Do in the Shadows,” so giving him the directorial reins of a major Marvel franchise was not the most intuitive production decision. This bold choice, however, has paid off in the film. Distancing himself from the often shoehorned comedic relief that Marvel films are known for, Waititi gives his film a particular comedic flare that pairs nicely with the ridiculous amount of action packed into this feature.
Despite continuing box office success, Marvel Studios has been criticized for their films’ formulaic nature. The critical and financial success of “Thor: Ragnarok”, which is 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes and has garnered $121 million domestically in its opening weekend, proves that a new studio philosophy of greater directorial liberty and creative control will please critics and regular moviegoers alike. The fantastic film has breathed life into both the Thor franchise and the aging Marvel Cinematic Universe.
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